Prom picture with guns stirs controversy

Every year, prom photos are a popular addition to the News Sentinel and its digital products. Usually, they’re just feel-good images that bring a smile. But occasionally, a picture triggers some controversy.

Cropping of controversial prom photo

Cropping of controversial photo

That was the case this year with a photo submitted by a Grainger County girl. Her gown had a “camo” pattern, and her date wore a matching vest. In keeping with that motif, the couple posed with a pair of rifles as the girl’s mom snapped photos.

The girl, a 17-year-old, then sent one of the photos to us, and we added it to our online gallery and put it on our Facebook page. The pose was whimsical and, we believed, unthreatening in attitude. But the reaction was considerable. “I was absolutely disgusted that you chose to feature a prom photo of kids with weapons,” wrote one reader. “I am never again purchasing your newspaper.” Several comments that could be taken as bullying toward the students were posted on our Facebook page — and deleted by us — and overnight Facebook sent us a message saying that the photo had been removed because it violated “community standards.”

The girl’s mother also called and requested that we remove the photo from our website. Our committee that handles “unpublish” requests met to weigh the factors, including the fact that the girl still was displaying one of the photos on her own Facebook page with the privacy setting on “public.” Because it was a minor who had submitted the photo, though, and because of the danger of bullying, we decided to pull the picture. It appears here in a radically cropped fashion that eliminates the firearms but gives a sense of the clothing pattern and the kids’ attitudes.